Saturday, 9 January 2021

The Run of the Isham Gnome

I run.

I run and I run.

After days inside, sat at the table, watching a screen, opening tabs, closing tabs, crashing the system, rebooting the system, eating toast, wearing cardigan upon cardigan, I run.

It’s the most wonderful journey I’ve ever taken.

I run along the bumpy pavements.

I run across the empty streets.

I run past the evidence of irresponsible dog owners.

 

I run because all that matters is the run.

It’s not the most beautiful run, but it’s my run.

Legs push me forward. Eyes stream in the battle against the wind. Lungs fill with beautiful, beautiful cold air.

I pass the naked trees, still home to pigeons and squirrels. I pass the playground, deserted and desolate in the current landscape. I pass the pub, curtains drawn and door bolted.

I run and I remember that everything is transitory.

Everything moves.

I move.

I run.

 

I run and I think about the future when the trees will be awash with resplendent greenery.

I run and I think about the future when the playground will heave with children screaming in excitement.

I run and I think about the future when the soft glow of the pub spills out onto the pavement.

I run and I think. All my best thinking is done when blood is pulsing to my extremities.

 

My journey continues.

I know where I’m going. Where I always go.

I run to the water.

I run alongside the water and inhale the industrial sea air.

It may not be very far, and it may not take very long, yet, as with all journeys, it is the movement that matters. The propulsion of existence. I exist and I run. 

I run the same route. Feet take the same steps. Eyes take in the same sights.

The broken gate, the wonky street sign, the Mr Men mosaic, the alien sticker on the lamppost, the abandoned scooter, the teddy in the window, the wall with the chunk missing.

I see them all. Every time. Every run.

Yet I run to the water and I don’t know what will greet me.

Tide in? Tide out? Choppy? Still? Swans in? Swans out? Oystercatchers? Sandpipers? Fishing? Beachcombers? Sea glass? Sun? Cloud? 

The transient nature of the sea keeps calling me back.

I run to it.

I run away from it.

 

But I know it won’t be long before the need to run catches me once more.

Monday, 27 July 2020

Turn Around

I dare you to read this title without Bonnie Tyler crooning in your ears.  

That's exactly what I had the whole time I pottered around Hollam Nurseries on Sunday. Maybe it was Bonnie Tyler or maybe it was my friend Kate who had a bad case of topical lyrical diarrhoea. There's a song for every occasion right? 

We were out on our adventures. Not a fully fledged, passport-necessary, hotel-staying, itinerary-organised adventure, but it was definitely further than the dog walk or the supermarket, so I was very excited. 

A mere twenty minutes from home and I was stepping into a field that took me to another world. I could've been in Provence or Tuscany. But I wasn't. I was in good old Fareham. Well, I suppose Titchfield sounds a bit prettier so we could go with that. 

I stepped into a field of sunflowers, or 'tournesols' if we want to be French about it. This is where Bonnie Tyler comes into it. The sunflowers were staring eastwards towards the rising sun, hidden at that point due to the reliable July clouds. Call me uncultured, but I never knew that the French name reflected the fact that young sunflowers turn around to follow the sun across the sky. I must've missed the horticulture lesson during French in school. 

Travel may not be back in our lives just yet, but there are signs that things are turning around, not just the sunflowers. To be able to spend an afternoon with friends (at a distance) wandering amongst the plants and flowers, nodding politely to the busy bees in the summer sun (read: swirling wind with fleeting moments of sunshine) was a step in the right direction. Once upon a time there was light in my life, and a trip to the sunflower fields shows that there still is light if you turn to find it. 


Here are five fun facts I discovered about the sunflowers:

1) The French name is 'tournesol' which literally translates to 'turn to the sun'. Say what you see eh? 

2) Sunflowers are great for pretending you're a pixie. Or a mouse. Or you're in a Rick Moranis movie. You can spend hours hiding amongst the giant foliage playing jungle hide and seek. The kids there were having a blast finding flowers bigger than their heads and promising weary parents that they would carry the equivalent of a tree around the farm. 

3) The mutants are out there. Sunflowers, like humans, come in all shapes and sizes, including mutated poly-headed behemoths, possibly unlike humans. I enjoyed finding those with faces coming out of their armpits, so to speak. I also felt empathy for those sagging stalks, slightly past their best. I tried to cheer up this line of ladies hanging their heads in dismay. 


4) Sunflowers are  really bloody heavy. One alone is quite hefty if you cut a stem with a considerable girth. Multiply that and they soon add up. We could pick ten for our £10 entry and by the time I got to seven, I couldn't feel my arms and balancing them whilst snipping my next victim was quite the struggle. Clearly, this is the reason to have a partner. Or children. Or a well trained dog. 

5) All this adventure and discovery can be yours if you visit Hollam Nurseries. Well worth a visit: copious supplies of fresh air and masses of space to distance yourself from the other pixies on their own sunflower adventures. 


Monday, 13 April 2020

Supermarket Expedition

It was time for the expedition of a lifetime. I had planned, I had prepared and the butterflies were well and truly holed up in my stomach. My hungry stomach. I had to undertake this expedition. The most important expedition of all: to find food. 

This was THE BIG SHOP. 

I had hand sanitiser. I had bags for life. I even had a list, and I never write a shopping list. 

And I was still shitting myself. 

But this was one journey that was essential. Obviously I was going to try to make sure it was the shortest shopping trip ever, but it was still a trip that I had to make. I looked to Supermarket Sweep as my action plan and headed out the door. 

The first leg was easy. The drive to Sainsbury's (big shop = big Sainsbury's) was a breeze. Despite nearing the hour of five o'clock, there were very few cars on the road. Rush hour is furloughed. 

I like to think of myself as a seasoned traveller, and as I'm British, it's also in my DNA: queuing is no problem. I saw an orderly line and I knew exactly what to do. We snaked around the car park with a good distance between participants. Well, everyone except the one knobhead directly behind me. How do I become a beacon for every mentally challenged selfish cretin who can't follow simple guidelines? The line will not move any faster if you speed up mate. I shot him a look of contempt with just a splash of unbridled fury to suggest it was best to keep his distance. 

Near the entrance, a lovely supermarket assistant explained to me how to use the self-scan so I could zap and pack as I went. I revelled in holding up my friend behind me whilst she explained. Thanking her profusely, I grinned at my follower and shuffled slowly to close up the gap. We still hadn't reached the final turn even with the informative delay. 

Once through the fabled automatic doors, the mission commenced. Up aisles, down aisles, checking round corners, swerving trolleys, giving the evil eye to anyone who tried to invade my two metre personal space, reversing out of potential collisions, remembering the list, checking the list, realising I forgot something off the list, cursing the bloody list. I think it went quite well. 

Imagine you are Pac-Man. Imagine you have to collect fruit whilst dodging ghosts who are trying to trap you in a corner. That is the supermarket experience in this, the time of coronavirus. I tried to collect a cauliflower but I was being closed in on from all sides. Then I realised I had to weigh it. Forget it! I don't need cauliflower cheese that badly. Leave it. Get out. The cauliflower is dead to me. We're living and shopping in a real life goddamn arcade game. My adrenaline was spiking and I hadn't even got to the chilled section. 

I've travelled through Central America but the danger and tension there was nothing compared to this. 

Time was ticking and I had to push on. 

Panic set in and I started grabbing items off shelves wherever I went, list be damned. Pringles? I only eat them at Christmas, but why not? Pop Tarts? I'm not ten and I don't fancy diabetes to add to my list of ailments, but sure! Jesus, I've been vegetarian for thirty years but I think I grabbed a gammon steak.

Past cereals, tinned goods, empty shelves where flour and yeast used to be (I would have to console myself with the excitement of seeing everyone's loaves and banana bread on Facebook later), squash, emergency biscuits, and nearly to the other side. 

I could see the checkouts.

I had almost made it. My expedition was almost complete. I could almost smell the (fresh) air from the car park. 

But then it came to me, like a bolt of inspiration. I could check if they have toilet roll. We have a few rolls left, granted, but it would be nice to have that breathing space, the comfort zone if you will. So, more in hope than anticipation, I rolled the trolley past the household aisle. 

There it was. 

In fine, two-ply glory. 

A whole shelf of Sainsbury's own toilet tissue. 

Praise be. 

I've seen Niagara Falls, lost Mayan cities and the Eiffel Tower all lit up, but this was the most beautiful sight of any of my travels. 

I unceremoniously grabbed, zapped and shoved the holy grail onto the already bulging bags in the trolley (praying I hadn't smashed any of the ridiculously expensive, middle class, organic eggs the depleted stocks had forced me into buying) and I was on the home straight. 

Signing up for the self-scanning meant I could bypass the queues for checkouts and went directly to the pay zone. Scanner holstered, card inserted, PIN number (eventually) remembered and I was done! 

My trolley left a skid mark on the floor as we dashed for freedom. The expedition complete, I was glad I had another adventure under my belt. But as soon as I got home and had scrubbed my hands, unpacked the goods, disinfected the bags, indulged in a little panic cry, had a cup of tea (with emergency biscuits), you can be damn sure that I was checking all the supermarket websites to see if I could get a delivery slot. 

This is one journey I don't want to make too often. 

#StayHome
#StayHomeSaveLives


Saturday, 28 March 2020

Passage Through Peartree

I squinted into the bright spring sunshine. My walking mate did the same and snuffled a trademark sneeze, shaking his furry mane. We never thought we would make it to this hallowed ground. He pulled at his lead, keen to continue our travels. So much planning had gone into this journey of a daytime, he didn't want to miss a thing.

We were excitable travellers as we reached Peartree Park. It was a tonic to our housebound, sedentary bones to stretch our legs (of vastly different lengths) and we revelled in every moment of fresh air, despite the whipping wind blowing across the common from the River Itchen. The sky was a cobalt blue canvass across which the gnarled fingers of the trees clawed upwards towards the warming rays.



A ribbon of daffodils ran alongside the church and we couldn't resist following the yellow petal road. My canine companion took joy in tramping through the long grass, savouring the scents and then adding his own flavour to the mix.



The big tourist sites loomed large: on one side the world famous Pear Tree Inn, offering a jukebox and crisps to all (a faint trace of stale lager and cheese and onion still lingered on the breeze). On the other side, the 400 year old Pear Tree church, seeping with history. Literally a location where God calls you one way whilst the devil offers you a seat at the bar. My furry friend and I could not be swayed either way and so continued our own journey. We had business to attend to.

Unexpectedly, we were treated to a glimpse of the natural wonders found in this part of the world. Being low to the ground, my travelling partner jumped first as the giant pigeon flapped towards him. Well, not really a giant, but quite big. The silver beauty waddled across the path to collect his treasure. A Penguin wrapper, I think. He must've felt a natural winged affinity with the shiny plastic. We watched in awe as he flew away, slightly lopsidedly, towards the trees.

Alas, there was no time to dawdle and bask in the glory of mother nature. My companion still had to find a suitable place to answer his own call of nature.

Taking the road back towards home, up the slope that's quite a struggle when your're a chihuahua, we passed a kitchen window. The window flooded us with a pulsing blast of jungle music. We must've been fortunate to be passing on a special occasion or at festival time as the music was loud as well as having some human accompaniment. In a mark of respect for the wishes and values of the local natives, we passed by without comment but with a slight rave in our step. When in Woolston...

On the other side of the road we were distracted by a beautiful vista. The spring blossoms were in full bloom and in the wind, they snowed down on us like confetti. They perfectly matched the transit van to complete the picture.



Our journey was almost at an end. But we had yet to fulfil our destiny. As we walked the final stretch along the suburban streets, I implored the tiny tyrant by my feet to comply. It was only as we reached the last corner, did he start to make the familiar movements. Beneath a vintage, cracked road name sign, he pivoted and twirled and found his spot. Upon a lush bed of dandelion weeds and ominous stinging nettles too close for comfort, he unloaded the package. We had completed the business of the journey.

I never thought I'd treasure the journey down the path that I've trodden countless times so much. Who knows when we'll get to walk these streets of Peartree once again?

Well, probably tomorrow morning as the dog walking schedule dictates.

But who knows what wondrous sights and delightful moments will await us. We are wayfarers wandering through our next adventure. With a trusty poo bag in hand.




Friday, 6 March 2020

The Wonder of the Wander

"Why are you going to Bath?" came the question from everyone I spoke to about my upcoming day trip.

In response I shrugged and thought about it (after at least the fourth time I'd been asked). Then I answered honestly that I was going for a wander; I was going to see stuff. What stuff, I wasn't sure, but I'd know when I saw it. This was the kind of day the word 'mooching' was invented for.

The week before an email had popped up informing me of cheap train tickets.

"Cheap, you say," my brain pondered, and the easy decision was made. I was off on a jaunt.

A jaunt is such a jaunty word. It leads you on a fun, yet not too ambitious adventure. I'm a fan of a mild adventure and this was everything that I look for in a mild adventure. I packed my sandwiches, shouldered my backpack and boarded the cheap train. My favourite type of train.

A good train journey is sometimes all I need for a good outing. Give me the window seat with the countryside dancing past and I don't even need to get off when I reach my stop.

But I did. I was ready to see Bath.

Well, I say ready, but I had no plans. I still didn't know why I chose Bath (apart from the cheap ticket offer), what I wanted to see in Bath, or any idea how I'd spend the next eight hours. It was exciting. I had a blank canvas of a day. I could go anywhere (within Bath); I could do anything. Yet I didn't want to do anything. I wanted to do as close to nothing as possible whilst still doing something. A mild adventure was on the cards.

And so as I arrived at Bath Spa train station, my blank canvas of day started to fill with colour. My feet would take me wherever I wandered. When I got back on the train later that night, I realised how quickly the day built up with tiny, seemingly insignificant moments of quiet joy that knitted together to create a beautiful day in a beautiful city.

Here, I unpick some of the threads that built the tapestry of my glorious free day dedicated to the joy of wandering.

  • Bath Spa train station toilets are a Victorian art deco place of beauty. I wanted to take a photo of the white tiles, black iron fittings and green ferns, but cameras are generally frowned upon in public bathrooms. I didn't mind waiting in that toilet queue. 
  • Exiting the station to be met by two bright blue anorak-clad tourist shepherds. I must've been their easiest customer of the day. "Why yes, I would like a free map, thank you very much." 
  • A walk over the famous Pulteney Bridge where the thing that made me smile most was not the bridge (shocking for me), but this exquisitely adorned florist. The shapes, the colours, the framing and the sunlight made my heart soar high into the blue beyond. 
  • Sitting by said bridge to eat the first of my cake-based snacks and watching the dozens of tourists, even on a cold February morn, posing and taking pictures in joy. 
  • A crisp morning walk in the eye-watering sunshine to walk the length and depth of the impressive Royal Crescent. 
  • Finding the perfect window seat in a cafe for my next beverage to be accompanied by reading the local free paper and people watching. 
  • A shuffle through the Green Park Station market to admire the weird food stalls and expansive glass roof above. 
  • Marvelling at the sight of a gentleman sat drinking a mug of tea sat in a bathtub-sofa atop a converted lifeboat as it drifted down the canal. 
  • The cloud speckled blue sky being dissected by a grey yet rusting industrial bridge I came across on a walk along the canal. 
  • The nerdy excitement of visiting a new Picturehouse cinema and settling into a cosy seat for an afternoon feature. 
  • Finally discovering the joy of the Bath Bun. I stopped at Sally Lunn's famous eating house (what every house should aspire to) to pick up some of these soft, sweet bread pillows. 
  • Following the deafening pealing bells towards Bath Abbey as I left the cinema at dusk, only to find the biggest, brightest full moon over the imposing, honey-coloured Gothic structure. 
  • A quick stop in the grandest cinema bar I've ever set foot in to hunker down in a squidgy, cushion adorned armchair to continue my people watching over candlelight. The atmospheric Tivoli Cinema was like stepping into a gold-trimmed scene from The Great Gatsby. 

Bath is a lively and history-laden city and I could've planned to take advantage of more of the tourist attractions. But I preferred my mooching method. It was only one day and it started as a day with no plans. In spite of having no plans, I packed a whole lot of something in. It's a wonder what you can find when you let yourself wander.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Going Nowhere

Warning: this post contains no travel.

I am a mover, a traveller, a can't-stay-still-er. I like to be DOING something. Most of the time anyway. Doing stuff: better than not doing stuff.

But I've found a magical place where I don't want to do anything. Or go anywhere. Or move.

To be honest, I'm annoyed at myself that I didn't think about it before. I love the look of them, I love everything that they represent, I love the nostalgia and the purity of them. Why haven't I thought about it before?

The place in question?

A beach hut.

The humble, British seaside beach hut along the golden sands of Bournemouth no less.

Fine, I lied a little; there was some travel involved. Early travel at that. I woke up super early (although the sleep was restless when it eventually came, much like on Christmas Eve) to take on the A31 before the traffic hit.

The beauty of the early start was that I was at the beach in time to ride my bike along the promenade before the 10 am curfew. Like a boss.

Then, the non-travel began.

I picked up the keys to my beach hut (which perfectly matched the colour of my bike - it was fate) and unlocked my destiny. Well, a wooden hut to call home until sunset.

I pulled out a deckchair and settled myself down. Sat on the prom, cup of tea and biscuits to hand, I started the task of doing nothing.

I sat.

I watched.

I listened to the sea.

I warmed under the sun's rays.

I smiled at everyone (and the gazillions of dogs) walking past.

I just smiled.

The best thing about travelling are the people you get to see. The people you meet along the journey or the people who you find at your destination. The beauty of the beach hut was that I got to see both these groups of people, but I didn't have to move to see them.

I'd sent an invitation to various people to join me at the hut during the day. Not everyone could come (which was fortuitous as the beach hut was not the TARDIS) but there was a steady flow of friends and family who came by throughout the day. I was there for the long haul, but I welcomed transient visitors, especially when they brought buckets and spades, tractors for digging, ice creams, chocolate supplies, satsumas and provided much needed coverage for when I went to the loo or for a swim (not simultaneously I hasten to add).

Then there were the people I met along the 'journey'. Although I didn't move anywhere, it was still possible to meet people: the arguing family two doors up who spread all the way along to my territory; the kindred football spirits who we talked to next door; the beach hut owner the other side who's been lucky enough to own it for almost twenty years and has the interior decked out like a junk shop; the fishermen I met by the bike racks who told me what they caught and how cold I could expect the sea to be (not too bad as it turns out).

And to add to this, there were the thousands of people I must've observed throughout the day from my deckchair shaped vantage point: the family of giant bubble blowers at the sea edge in the early morn; the diligent joggers getting it done before the crowds; the teenage gymnasts tumbling off the groynes onto the sand like superheroes; the toddlers straying into the paths of other walkers; everyone on the land train I had to wave to every single time they passed; the old couples strolling hand in hand; and not forgetting ALL THE DOGS!

It was a busy day and I saw so much considering I went nowhere.

After twelve hours being on the beach, I made a last sweep of the beach hut (they provide you with a broom and I've never enjoyed sweeping so much) and locked up for the night. The smile never left my face as I took the bike ride back along the prom. By that time I was a little chilly, tired and covered in sand. But I couldn't have been happier.

Next time I want to go somewhere that makes me happy, I'm going to go nowhere.



Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Strictly Come Darting

I've talked a lot about love in my last few posts. Maybe I'm getting soppy in my old age. Or maybe in a world that seems to be losing all common sense and crumbling into chaos around us, love is what I want to see more of and so am searching it out on some level.

It was 32 degrees and I was sharing a car with three family members for a little over five hours. You might well ask why: I often asked why when we were crawling through the roadworks on the M6 and into the second hour of the car name game.

The reason was love.

Sure, he drives me crazy and invokes eye-rolling like no one else can dare to, but I can't help but love my dad.

So, my brother and I bought him tickets to the darts. The PDC World Matchplay Darts to be exact.

I was a little terrified. I'd seen the darts on telly and it looks quite rowdy. I am not. As a rule. But Dad loves the sport, so along we went. My dad, my uncle, my brother and I were on an Isham road trip up north to the glitz and glamour of Blackpool.

Finally arriving at our hotel along the prom, we peeled ourselves out of sweaty clothes and changed into marginally less sweaty wear, only to cram into Blackpool Winter Gardens with thousands of other people who were sat closer to me than I've been to my closest friends. And they were already rowdy. I didn't think I'd last the night.

But then something strange happened.

I embraced the cheering, the sweating and the mental maths. I looked around the room and saw the love.

Everyone there was there because they loved the darts. #lovethedarts

They loved the game of darts.

They loved some of the players.

They loved hating some of the other players.

They loved the drama of it.

They loved the spectacle of it.

They loved the community of it.

It was a room full of (sweaty) love and beauty.

I loved the beauty of the Winter Gardens architecture.

I loved the effort people put into their ridiculous costumes.

I loved the signs people were writing to hold up to the TV cameras to their nan / their boss / the general public at home.

I loved the kids keeping quiet on their phones whilst parents let loose.

I loved the disappearing drink dregs near the teenagers who'd been dragged along on the annual family pilgrimage.

I loved the chat between groups of strangers on the long banquet style tables.

I loved the pumping beats at the end of every leg of the games.

I loved the pizza box flipped into the air by the Scottish man practically sat on my lap when his local hero did well.

I loved the flippy scroll banner contraption that I could thrust into the air with joy at every 180.

Everyone there loved it. There was something special about how a collective love sweeps you along. By the end of the night, I was deeply invested in a match between two men I'd never heard of three hours previously and roared along with everyone else in the room at each thud of the dart into the triple twenty.



According to the chant (I told you it was rowdy), you had to "Stand up, if you love the darts!". I was on my feet for most of the evening. It was very easy to #lovethedarts. 

I already knew I would fall in love the next day. We were set for a slight change of pace in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. There we found scores of people swirling round the famous dance floor. Despite it being a warm weekday afternoon, the tables around the dance floor were all occupied, even though some just had cardigans holding the seats whilst the wearers were otherwise occupied with a waltz. 

I knew I would love it before I got there, and of course I did. I had a swelling of emotion and felt ridiculous trying to stem my stinging nose as I first looked around in awe of the decoration, the ambience but most of all of the people bringing the ballroom to life. 

These weren't celebrity dancers; they were 'the regulars' as the lady on the till had told us. The people who live to come and take to the floor with their friends and partners to the sound of the organ on the stage, for the love of the dance. 

It was beautiful. The dancers were the most beautiful I've ever seen. 

I loved the tables of older folk chatting and laughing and drinking tea and deciding when the music moved them to dance. 

I loved the red velvet backed chairs. 

I loved the smiling lady in the pale blue dress gracing a different partner every tune with her presence. 

I loved the cheeky fella with the psychedelic waistcoat and bow-tie making his partners lose concentration by laughing. 

I loved the elegant lady taking the lead with a visitor who wanted to try their feet in the ballroom. 

I loved the lady dancing with the gent in the wheelchair, easily winning the twirling stakes. 

I loved the fact that the Viennese Waltz is the ballroom version of Mr Brightside where no one is left sitting down when it plays. Banger. 

I loved the two older ladies dancing with each other and obviously having a complete ball. 

I loved the tea and cake I enjoyed whilst watching the dancing. 

I loved sitting on the balcony and watching the hypnotic scene below until my face ached from smiling. 



Our love for Dad had driven us to the town of Blackpool, and I was glad to share its spirit and its fish and chips with my loved ones. 

Blackpool is a place that wears its heart on its sleeve. Everyone there is happy to share their passions and they do so with no qualms or worries about how they might appear to others.

To wear a satin ballgown and matching gloves at 1pm on a Wednesday or to dress as a seagull in a packed ballroom on the hottest day ever in Blackpool comes from a place of love. In the current climate of confusion and hatred, we need to cultivate more love in our daily lives. I, for one, will stand up to being a bit more Blackpool and do what I love.